A new shared approach to resilience in Asia

Oxfam Methodology

Development and humanitarian programmes are increasingly being understood holistically as different elements for building resilience. In response to this Oxfam in Asia has produced a new companion with practical advice for anyone working to increase the resilience of people living in poverty, as Janice Ian Manlutac, Asia Resilience Change lead explains.

The year 2015 closed with three global development frameworks that influence and shape the contours of the humanitarian and development landscape converging: the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR), the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris climate change deal. All three are peppered with the word ‘resilience’ either as an approach, process or outcome. In fact if you do a quick survey of learning events and workshops last year resilience is a hot topic and in social media parlance, truly trending. It is also the main star in many funding calls that have
come out and I bet, will come out this year. Check out the latest ECHO HIP or the latest DFAT call.

So what is resilience, really? Is it a buzzword we use to get donors to fund proposals or a word we insert or prefix normal words to make us appear up to date? (E.g. resilient infrastructure, resilient systems, and urban resilience, etc.) The word can sometimes be abused too in that everything can fall under the umbrella that is resilience even if the approach remains the same.

Oxfam defines resilience as ‘the ability of women, men, and children to realise their rights and improve their well-being despite shocks, stresses, and uncertainty’

Oxfam defines resilience as ‘the ability of women, men, and children to realise their rights and improve their well-being despite shocks, stresses, and uncertainty’. This definition of resilience is not only about coping or ‘bouncing back’, it is also about going beyond preparedness and risk reduction and ensuring that poor and marginalised people can realise their rights and improve their well-being despite shocks, stresses, and uncertainty. These
essential elements – that people are both less affected by shocks, stresses and uncertainty and work their way out of poverty despite them – are the core of our resilience work.

Resilience as a lens can provide a more inclusive step change across the organisation. Gone are the days when humanitarian responders can plan and implement a six month emergency response without the benefit of working with long term development colleagues who can support the transition into a more resilient and durable recovery. Vice versa, our economic justice work cannot survive without the input of humanitarians in disaster proofing and response mitigation and adaptation mechanisms, to protect our programmes from hazards and risks.

The way I envisage resilience comes from my experience of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2014. I saw this lone coconut tree amidst a landscape of wiped out coconuts truly looking out of place, holding its ground, refusing to break. Is that tree resilient? No. Why? What purpose will it serve as a lone tree if the whole ecosystem is gone? Maybe it was able to withstand the shock of the wind (we refer to this as absorptive capacity) and rain, but a coconut thrives in the presence of other plants around it. Without the rest of the ecosystem, it is more vulnerable to the elements. The
sun will dry it up and if there is no habitation to retain moisture around it, most likely it will not thrive (adapt to change) and certainly it will not be able to transform itself in its new barren and exposed environment (transformative change).

This is a simple illustration, but of course resilience in the world of development and humanitarian programmes is much more complex. To help unpack what resilience means to us we’ve produced the Asia Resilience Companion which aims to provide practical guidance to staff working on resilience throughout the region. It is intended to be used first and foremost by Oxfam and partner staff who are directly involved in project design and implementation, but it also has much broader
possible applications for other agencies and other parts of Oxfam.

Think about resilience in a holistic way whatever your starting point.

The guide includes a practical checklist of things to consider at project and wider programme level divided into two major categories:  the resilience fundamental checklist and the additional elements list. The checklist includes factors that need to be prioritised such as access to contingency resources and support; assets, income, and food security; fostering innovation; access to knowledge and information; exercise of basic rights; and, restoration of natural resource base. 

The Theory of Change can guide your thinking, help make sure there isn’t anything you’ve missed, and help create a strong strategy. It can help you think about resilience in a holistic way whatever your starting point. It provides  a shared way of thinking, talking and learning about resilience; so a water engineer, a livelihoods project officer, a manager, and a grassroots activist can tackle resilience with a shared language.

I invite you to check out the Asia Resilience Companion (and Oxfam’s accompanying strategy) and start using it to analyze resilience in your area of work today.

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Photo: A group of women work in an onion field outside an informal settlement in the Manohara area. Credit: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Author: Janice Ian Manlutac
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.